It was not long after the Anschluss of March 13, 1938, that the Nazis began to take an interest in the Jew Sigmund Freud. The number of "visits" to the Berggasse residence increased in frequency and were often accompanied by demands for money. One Tuesday evening, on March 22, Anna Freud was held "bei Gestapo" for questioning, which sealed her father's decision to leave Austria.
It has been suggested that "humor is a polite way of expressing despair" and it is not surprising that a number of jokes circulated in Austria at the time. One of them, attributed to Freud himself, has been frequently repeated ever since Ernest Jones reported it: "One of the conditions for being granted an exit visa was that he sign a document that ran as follows, 'I Prof. Freud, hereby confirm that after the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich I have been treated by the German authorities and particularly the Gestapo with all the respect and consideration due to my scientific reputation, that I could live and work in full freedom, that I could continue to pursue my activities in every way I desired, that I found full support from all concerned in this respect, and that I have not the slightest reason for any complaint.' When the Nazi officer brought it along Freud had of course no compunction in signing it, but he asked if he might be allowed to add a sentence, which was: 'I can heartily recommend the Gestapo to anyone'" (Jones, 1957, p. 226).
This "story" has been repeated many times and commented on by those who treated it as genuine. Some commentators have reproached Freud for a "recommendation" they felt to be ambiguous; others admired his audacity. Eventually, some people ended up believing that Freud had actually added this sentence to the Nazi document.
It is hard to imagine that Freud, who was aware of the difficult and costly negotiations by the U. S. ambassador to France (William C. Bullitt), Marie Bonaparte, and Ernest Jones to obtain his visa, and who was responsible for the fate of his daughter and wife within the climate of the anti-Semitic hatred that had taken hold in Vienna, would have taken the risk of making a joke that in a matter of seconds might undo all their efforts. Moreover, he was depressed by the powerlessness resulting from his age and poor health, as he wrote in a letter to his son Ernst on May 12, 1938, "I am writing to you for no particular reason because here I am sitting inactive and helpless while Anna runs here and there coping with all the authorities, attending to all the business details" (letter number 297, p. 442). But his "official" biography maintained this fiction, and none of those close to Freud denied it, especially Anna Freud.
The original text of the statement was found during a 1989 public auction of documents concerning the emigration of Freud's family. It is a more sober statement, closer to the horrible truth of those years, than the theatrical version given by Jones, and more consistent with the customary bureaucratic indifference of the Nazi machine. It was written by Alfred Indra and signed by Freud, without any additions by him. It reads: "Erklarung. Ich bestätige gerne, dass bis heute den 4. Juni 1938, keinerlie Behelligung meiner Person oder meiner Hausgenossen vorgekommen ist. Behörden und Funtionäre der Partei sind mir und meinem Hausgenossen ständig korrekt und rücksickstvoll entgegentretten. Wien, den 4. Juni 1938. Prof. Dr. Sigm. Freud." (Declaration. I hereby confirm of my own free will that as of today, June 4, 1938, neither I nor those around me have been harassed. The authorities and representatives of the Party have always conducted themselves correctly and with restraint with me and with those around me. Vienna, June 4, 1938. Prof. Dr. Sigm. Freud.)
Freud's comment was most likely introduced to mask the anguish of his departure form of black humor, which had close links, throughout Freud's life, with the tradition of Yiddish Witze, which were often also tinged with despair.
ALAIN DE MIJOLLA
See also: Bettelheim, Bruno; Freud, (Jean Martin); Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag; Mitscherlich, Alexander.
Jones, Ernest. (1957). Sigmund Freud. Life and work. London: Hogarth.
Mijolla, Alain de. (1989). A sale in Vienna. Journal de l'association internationale d'histoire de la psychanalyse, 8.
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